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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

Nobel Prize winner Yasunari Kawabata's short novel Thousand Cranes examines the nature of love through the relationships of several characters in postwar Japan.

Kikuji Mitani is the protagonist of Thousand Cranes. He is a 25-year-old bachelor who is grieving the death of his father. Kikuji is lured to a tea ceremony by one of his late father's mistresses and becomes deeply entangled in his father's affairs. In a quest to better understand the elder Mitani, Kikuji makes several choices that lead him down an emotionally destructive path.

Chikako Kurimoto is the antagonist of Thousand Cranes. She is the host of the ancient tea ceremony that serves as the backdrop for the story. Kikuji's father had a wife and more than one mistress. Chikako was one of those mistresses. She despises the other mistress and uses the tea ceremony as a tool to manipulate Kikuji.

Mrs. Ota is a beautiful, middle-aged woman who was also a mistress to Kikuji's father during the last years of his life. Kikuji reminds Mrs. Ota of her late lover. She is attracted to Kikuji for this reason, and he becomes infatuated with her as well. They begin a sexual relationship. Mrs. Ota is overcome with guilt afterward and commits suicide.

Fumiko Ota is Mrs. Ota's daughter. Like her mother, she is attracted to Kikuji. After Mrs. Ota's death, Kikuji becomes attracted to Fumiko and even considers her as a potential bride. However, Fumiko disappears before Kikuji can declare his feelings. He tries and fails to find her.

Yukiko Inamura is Chikako's student. She is a graceful, charming girl and a potential bride for Kikuji. Yukiko wears a scarf that is pink in color and bears the pattern of a thousand cranes; in Japan, the color and pattern symbolize a long and happy life. Although she is not heavily involved in the action of the story, Yukiko has an important role because she symbolizes the life Kikuji could have had if he were not so entangled in his dead father's affairs.

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